When we talk about Michael B Jordan, we should only be talking about two things: 1) how ridiculously talented he is or 2) how ridiculously handsome he is. When we see an image of MBJ and his director, the incomparable Ryan Coogler, in Vanity Fair, we should only be celebrating how ridiculously talented and handsome BOTH of them are. Instead, we are talking about the backlash the two received from that image. The photo shows Jordan and Coogler staring into my heart, I mean, the camera while MBJ’s hand is placed on Coogler’s head.
It’s a strikingly powerful and beautiful image. To me, it embodies black excellence and showcases the friendship and partnership between the duo who brought cinematic masterpieces Fruitvale Station and Creed to life (read a great piece about their rapport here). But when Vanity Fair and other outlets posted the photo to their Facebook pages, dumbass commenters criticized the photo for being “emasculating” or “too gay.” Some even implied it looked like Coogler was about to go down on Jordan.
People are dumb. People on the Internet are next level dumb. But their stupidity has opened up a larger discussion about black masculinity. It is important to note this backlash is in reaction to the image of two straight black men embracing. Before you accuse me of bringing race into a place it doesn’t belong, the history of homophobia in the black community is long, shameful, and undeniable. It shouldn’t matter if these two men are gay or straight but the fact that the mere implication of something sexual between them evokes such vitriol in these commenters –who are mostly people of colour—is troubling.
I don’t think we would be having this conversation if Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese posed for the same photo. I don’t think the reaction would have been the same if it were Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon. Actually, I know it wouldn’t. Google Image search Justin and Jimmy. They’re practically making out in every photo.
Since I am not an expert on masculinity, I called my big brother, a 31-year-old black man, who told me that growing up, he and his friends were always wary of their image. He said he and his other straight black friends could be as affectionate as they wanted in the hallways or on the basketball court but in photos, their arms would be crossed with an appropriate distance between them. In his experience, my brother says, black men are highly hetero-sexualized, meaning there is pressure to be a womanizer or the stereotypically muscular, strong black man, the antithesis of gay stereotypes.
Michael B Jordan and his stylist Jeff K. Kim were just featured in The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Stylists and Stars issue.
It’s a similar photo shoot where MBJ is posing with another man. They are even touching in one of the images. So far, I haven’t seen any negative reactions. So apparently, the antiquated standards of manhood only apply to two black men showing affection. What is that? When will this bullsh-t end?
In the Vanity Fair article no one is talking about, the magazine pegged Michael B Jordan and Ryan Coogler as “style disruptors” or people who have challenged the status quo and succeeded. With this photo, they are doing just that. Coogler and Jordan are both 29 years old. They are millennials. They are of the generation of men who are constantly accused of losing touch with their manliness or being too soft. This is why representation is important. If young black role models like Michael B Jordan continue to show that male intimacy should be celebrated, not feared, maybe this outdated notion of what it means to be a black man will be a thing of the past.
I’ll leave you with this video from The Hollywood Reporter of MBJ and his stylist being charming and HOT. Ridiculously hot.